The Story That Made Me an Advocate
I am a 60-year-old straight white male who works in advancing women and minorities in corporate America. I’m a business consultant and work with Fortune 500 companies and leaders every day to advocate for the values of diversity and inclusion and demonstrate their connection to the bottom line.
I am neither alt right nor extreme left. I’m a registered Independent and a moderate, and I am sickened daily by the conversations taking place in the US workplace as well as on Main Street—conversations that are divisive and only serve to push people apart.
I choose to do this work because of an epiphany I had in the workplace almost 20 years ago. While I had spent most of my career in sales and marketing, I was assigned a special project to help lead a diversity- and education-training initiative. I did not understand this work and, quite frankly, thought it was a waste of time.
However, I began listening to stories in the workplace. Stories taking place in my company that I was not aware of. Stories of racism, sexism, and homophobia. My epiphany occurred one day when a Black colleague and friend stood up and shared a message.
He said, “Jeff, you know I’m a Vice President, and I live in a midsize town in the Midwest. I live in a beautiful neighborhood, and I drive a very nice car. These are things I have earned through hard work. At least once a month, I am pulled over on my drive home from work for being nothing more than a Black man in a nice car in a nice neighborhood. My car. My neighborhood. You go through all kinds of emotions from frustration to despair to outright anger. However, one of the lowest days of my life occurred when I was driving home with my 14-year-old son sitting next to me, and we were pulled over. I knew in that moment as a father, however, I reacted would be the way my son would react in a few years when he was pulled over. And all I could do is drop my hands on my lap and be as polite as possible.”
That story changed me and my life. I had what they call a “white male epiphany,” where I realized what white male privilege is in a world that revolves around me. You see, I am the father of a daughter and a son, and I knew my children would never experience something like this in their lifetimes. (Also, please note this was 2003, almost 15 years ago and long before racial profiling was in the news on a daily basis).
The simple point is, most of us have no knowledge or insight into the experiences that women and minorities are facing daily. I have done this work for 15 years, and I literally learn something new every day from the women and minorities I work with.
By the same token, many women and minorities do not understand the struggles that white men are currently experiencing. Today, many men see a bull’s-eye on their backs if they are over 50 and white. The assumption is you must be a supporter of all of the hatred going on in our country and that (I) couldn’t possibly understand your (diversity) challenges. I am not saying my challenges and issues are greater than yours. This isn’t a contest! All I’m saying is we can’t homogenize all white men any more than we can homogenize other genders and cultures.
These assumptions are leading to anger, confusion, and outrage, but the solution is actually simple. We need to have a civil conversation about our differences.
We need to talk about the experiences that each of us are having. By listening—genuinely listening—to the challenges taking place at all levels of organizations and in people’s lives, we will begin to demonstrate inclusion and genuine respect to all associates.
The line today is not left or right, Republican or Democrat, but whether you love humanity.
—Brené Brown, PA Conference for Women, 2017
My goal is to focus on people who are ready to be advocates. I believe up to 30% of men are ready to be visible vocal advocates for women. I believe another 50% can get on board. But we also must realize not everyone in the workplace is ready for this conversation. There will always be those whose points of view you will never change. My advice is to ignore them and help to create a workplace where they will realize there is no place for points of view that fuel exclusion.
Only through genuine listening and conversation will we start to create more dialogue and compassion. What was your diversity epiphany? I would love to hear from you. Please comment below or send your stories to comments@firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post originally appeared in MARC.
Jeffery Tobias Halter is a corporate gender strategist. A leading expert on engaging men to advance women, Jeffery is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company, and creator of the Father of a Daughter Initiative. The former Director of Diversity Strategy of The Coca-Cola Company, Jeffery has worked with leading companies including McDonald’s, Deloitte, Publicis Groupe, GE and more. A highly sought-after thought leader, Jeffery is a TEDx speaker and frequently talks at industry and corporate events. To learn more about having genuine conversations about gender issues, subscribe to Jeffery’s Gender Conversation Quick Starter newsletter.